Breslin Bound: Boys Report Week 9

January 29, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Temperatures across the state may fall below zero Wednesday and Thursday, but things are expected to warm up significantly by this weekend – and Michigan high school boys basketball will follow.

Conference champions are starting to be crowned, the Detroit Public School League Tournament begins this week and Saturday offers another major showcase of MHSAA title hopefuls facing off.

Breslin Bound is powered by MI Student Aid and based on results and schedules posted for each school at MHSAA.com. To offer corrections or fill in scores we’re missing, email me at Geoff@mhsaa.com.

Week in Review 

The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:  

1. Detroit U-D Jesuit 70, Flint Beecher 69 – Division 1 Jesuit handed the second loss this season to Division 3 Beecher in a matchup of teams that could both end this season hoisting MHSAA Finals trophies.

2. Detroit Edison 77, Benton Harbor 68 – The reigning Class C champ and another Division 3 contender, Edison, handed reigning Class B champ and Division 2 power Benton Harbor its first defeat.

3. Wyoming Potter’s House Christian 85, Marcellus Howardsville Christian 69 – Potter’s House also is earning attention in Division 3, in this one handing Division 4 contender Howardsville Christian its first loss.

4. Saginaw Swan Valley 61, Alma 60 (OT) – Swan Valley moved into a tie with Alma for first in the Tri-Valley Conference Central by handing the Panthers their first loss in league and overall.

5. Hudsonville 45, Rockford 39 – The Eagles, 10-12 a season ago, moved into first place alone in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red by sending the Rams into second.

Watch List

With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:

DIVISION 1

• Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (14-0) – After back-to-back seasons of finishing 16-8 and winning District titles, Forest Hills Northern may be on the verge of a few more steps up. A 64-53 win over Grand Rapids Northview on Friday put the Huskies in first alone in the O-K White, and they also have wins over O-K Red leader Hudsonville (by 23) and O-K Green second-place Holland Christian (by 12).

• Mount Pleasant (12-0) – The Oilers followed their Class A Semifinal appearance in 2014 with a sub-.500 record the following season, but have upped their win total every season since and are closing in on surpassing last year’s 18 victories. They sit atop the Saginaw Valley League Red and posted an impressive 56-44 win over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s last week at Saginaw Valley State.

DIVISION 2

• Marine City (10-2) – Marine City has clinched outright the Macomb Area Conference Bronze championship, its first league title in 34 years. All but one of its wins have been by double digits – and the losses were in overtime by a point to St. Clair in early December and two weeks ago to Blue Water Area Conference leader and one-loss Richmond.

• New Haven (13-1) – The Rockets, Class B semifinalists last season and the champions in 2017, have taken the first step on another run by clinching the MAC White championship with Friday’s 64-37 win over second-place Warren Mott. An opening-night victory over U-D Jesuit remains impressive, and New Haven’s lone loss – by five to Roseville on Dec. 4 – keeps looking better as the Panthers are 13-1.

DIVISION 3

• Saginaw Valley Lutheran (12-1) – Valley Lutheran this week can guarantee surpassing last season’s 13-8 record, and has been climbing in a big way. Ten wins are by double digits – including a 48-38 overtime victory over Ithaca two weeks ago that put the Chargers in first alone in the TVC West. The lone defeat came against TVC Central co-leader Swan Valley.

• Wyoming Potter’s House Christian (12-1) – The Pumas have won outright or shared six straight league championships, and they hold a half-game lead in the Alliance League again after beginning last week by handing Tri-unity Christian its first conference loss, 54-53. As noted above, Potter’s House followed with a big win over Howardsville, which entered last week unbeaten and outscoring opponents by 42 points per game.

DIVISION 4

• Big Rapids Crossroads (12-1) – A 53-47 win Thursday over then co-leader Manistee Catholic Central put Crossroads in first alone in the West Michigan D League and avenged an earlier 10-point defeat to MCC. Crossroads finished 7-15 just a year ago, but has eight wins this season by double digits.

• Martin (8-1) – The Clippers are one of three teams tied for first in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore, with Division 3 Fennville and Division 2 Coloma, and after falling to Fennville on Jan. 11. Martin’s next win will give this team just as many as when it finished 9-13 a year ago, and seven of the first eight this winter have been by double figures.

Can't-Miss Contests

Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:  

Tuesday – Walled Lake Northern (14-0) at Milford (10-3) – The Mavericks can’t climb into first place by beating Lakes Valley Conference leader Northern, but second-place Waterford Mott could slip into a tie for the top spot in that scenario.

Wednesday – Traverse City St. Francis (7-2) at Elk Rapids (8-2) – St. Francis leads the Lake Michigan Conference by a game over the Elks, with this the first of two meetings scheduled.

Saturday – Muskegon (9-3) vs. Grand Blanc (9-4) at Grand Rapids Union – This Redhawk Showcase game pits the SVL Blue-leading Bobcats against a Big Reds team on a five-game winning streak.  

Saturday – Kalamazoo Central (9-1) vs. Grand Rapids Christian (10-2) at Grand Rapids Union – The Maroon Giants lead the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East, and the Eagles are tied for first in the O-K Gold.

Saturday – Benton Harbor (14-1) vs. Ypsilanti Lincoln (10-1) at Grand Rapids Union – The 6 p.m. Redhawk Classic game might be the best featuring the reigning Class B champ and a Division 1 title hopeful led by one of the nation’s top freshman.

Second Half’s weekly “Breslin Bound” reports are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTO: Goodrich downed Lake Fenton 57-48 on Jan. 18 and remains a game off the lead in the Genesee Area Conference Red. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

Longtime Coach Researches Photos to Tell Story of Grand Rapids Sports' Past

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

September 16, 2022

GRAND RAPIDS – Bob Schichtel always pauses when he comes across the ancient black and white photo long enough to ponder whatever became of the two youngsters adorned in Grand Rapids Union basketball uniforms.

The posed shot shows two players facing each other in a local gymnasium in a photo apparently taken four days after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that launched the country into World War II. Only a handful of fans today would recognize the players' striped, ultra-short shots and simple sleeveless shirts with "Union" emblazed across the front as recognizable basketball uniforms. One holds a battered-looking basketball, while the other looks on. The two players, whose uniform numbers are "4" and "9," aren't really smiling, but still seem as close as any teammates, whether 81 years ago or today.

In fact, it's the look the youngsters share that intrigues Schichtel, whose thankless, pro bono job it is to identify the two players.

"Once you start," said Schichtel, a former longtime Grand Rapids basketball coach, "it's like looking down a deep rabbit hole."

Longtime area coach Bob Schichtel researches hundreds of photos that are part of the Grand Rapids Public Library archive. Schichtel works as a volunteer for the Grand Rapids Public Library trying to identify mostly former Grand Rapids City League basketball players from approximately 1938 through the early fifties. The online photos are mostly from the Robinson Photo Studio Collection taken in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Herald newspaper. The library says the unique collection spans some 950 basketball negatives from the entire Robinson/Herald collection that totals well over 900,000 Grand Rapids photos.

While the work – which amounts to a ton of patience combined with a detective ability – can be exhausting, it's still what Schichtel describes as a labor of love. For example, there's the shot of the two still-unidentified Union players. Schichtel looks at the photo and can't help but wonder whatever happened to the kids. Were they exceptional athletes? Did they leave their marks on Grand Rapids history, whether it was in education, politics, business, industry, the arts or another field? He doesn't even know, as in many photos from this era, whether the two entered the military and thus even survived World War II.

Schichtel has searched everywhere for the answers, but has come up short. Too many times, in fact.

Which isn't to say he'll quit looking or chalk up his research as inconsequential. Schichtel said the foremost reason he spends hours on the project is that many of the athletes he identifies deserve the recognition for achievements far beyond basketball. In many cases former City League basketball, football, baseball, track and tennis athletes became the foundation on which Grand Rapids was built. If Schichtel can uncover an old photo which depicts these youngsters during their high school careers, so much the better, he said.

"It's important to recognize Grand Rapids sports history, and I don't know if we've given enough attention to their past," Schichtel said. "They are what got us here, and I'm a firm believer they need to be recognized for it."

Figuring out that history, however, ranges from, at the least, extremely time consuming to – in too many frustrating cases – virtually impossible. The City League was formed in the late 1920s and featured original schools Grand Rapids Central, Creston, South, Union, Ottawa Hills, Catholic Central and Davis Tech. The league was eventually folded into the Ottawa-Kent Conference in 2008. 

"It was a long, evolving league," Schichtel said.

Schichtel has identified these 1941 Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills basketball players as James Horn (left) and Chuch Reynier. The identification tools available to Schichtel are actually more numerous than most would suspect. For starters, he's formed an impressive database of information by pouring through old City League yearbooks and programs, photos from other collections and microfilm of old newspapers, And then there's also the knowledge gathered by Schichtel himself, a 1968 Grand Rapids Catholic Central graduate. After playing in many old City League gymnasiums, Schichtel went on to compile a 389-197 record in 27 years as the Cougars girls basketball coach. He uses countless City League contacts as both a player and coach to identify athletes. In all, Schichtel taught in the Grand Rapids school system for 34 years.

He also uses the game itself to identify the photos. For instance, he can pinpoint some photos simply by the styles of the uniforms worn by players. He also figures out who is who by other clues such as what the players are doing in the photo. If a player is taking a set shot in the photo, it's likely pre-World War II. The beginnings of the jump shot, or what Schichtel calls "elevation while shooting," is probably mid-1940s. In addition, Schichtel can identify photos through pure basketball athleticism. Players can look a bit awkward in shots from the thirties as compared to players from the late 1940s who were beginning to play with a more obvious flare.

Put all the information together and Schichtel, who has uncovered more than two dozen personal connections to subjects in the photos, believes he has a reasonable shot at identifying them.

Since he signed on with the project, Schichtel figures he's identified about 10 percent of the photos he's viewed. Among the City League athletes he's found shots of Central's John Lavan, who was born in 1890 and played Major League Baseball during the Babe Ruth era and became a military hero who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery; Creston basketball player Roger Wilkins, an assistant United States attorney general during the Watergate hearings; Art Spoelstra of Godwin, a former NBA player and member of the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame; and Grand Rapids native Bill Cutler, who turned a chance post-World War II meeting with then-American League president Will Harridge into a position as commissioner of the Pacific Coast League,

Schichtel said gaining information through photos on the people who became the bedrock of Grand Rapids should be celebrated.

"I think it's a great approach for the community; they shouldn't be forgotten," Schichtel said. "Who else is going to do this? Why do I do it? I see a certain, for lack of a better word, a nobility. These kids played for the love of game, and they became the “Greatest Generation.” These kids did great things. It's not just, 'Well, there's No. 58,’ in a photo.

"You want to know more about them. That's the real intrigue for me."

Schichtel identified Grand Rapids South High’s “Fireman Five” of, from left, Fred Esslair, Lee Morrow, Jack Carroll, Bob Youngberg and Bruce Bigford. Tim Gloege of the Grand Rapids Public Library said the collection of photos – and their identification – is continually growing. As more people log onto the library's website, more people want to either add to the collection or have information that leads to an identification. The library estimates about 1,200 photos are searched monthly. But as time grows, many of the original photos are disintegrating. The library is in a constant state of preservation, Gloege said.

"It's a massive project, and we're working to get as many photos online as possible," he said. "The numbers (of photos) we have are rising pretty significantly as people post them on social media.

"When you think of the past and now, you need to realize these are people, kids who used to play basketball and did other things. The work is hard and very time-intensive, but it brings a whole new dimension to history."

Schichtel said he's "kind of picked the low-hanging fruit" on many of the easy photos to identify. But the work will continue.

"Yes, it can be frustrating," he said. "There are limitations if you want it to be accurate. Sometimes you look at a photo and you know it's not going to happen, and you move on. But this a chance to learn about people who made Grand Rapids what it is. That's important to me."

PHOTOS (Top) Two Grand Rapids Union basketball players stand for a photo taken Dec. 12, 1941. (2) Longtime area coach Bob Schichtel researches hundreds of photos that are part of the Grand Rapids Public Library archive. (3) Schichtel has identified these 1941 Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills basketball players as James Horn (left) and Chuch Reynier. (4) Schichtel identified Grand Rapids South High’s “Fireman Five” of, from left, Fred Esslair, Lee Morrow, Jack Carroll, Bob Youngberg and Bruce Bigford. (Historic photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library.)